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Politics and Economy:
Downward Mobility
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October 2003 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau make stark reading:
  • Median household incomes are falling
  • The number of Americans without health insurance rose by 5.7 percent to 43.6 million individuals
  • The number of people living below the poverty line ($18,392 for a family of four) climbed to 12.1 percent — 34.6 million people.
Wages make up the majority of income for most American families. As "Downward Mobility," NOW's report on workers and wages illustrates, many American workers are facing corporate efforts to cut pay and benefits, which could lead to more American families struggling to stay out of poverty.

The precarious position of those at the bottom of the wage scale is due to a number of factors. Americans are working more — more women are working for wages and all are working more hours. On average, a middle income married couple with children had added an average of 20 weeks of work per year since 1970. Still, it's increasingly hard for families to make ends meet. According to October 2003 formulations of the Economic Policy Institute, drawn from Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has declined.

One measure of how families at the lower end of the wage scale struggle is the federal figures on food insecurity. According to the USDA, food insecurity is: "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways." In 2002 the national rate for food insecurity was 10.7 percent. Of those who are food insecure, only 36.5 percent live officially below the poverty line. The Economic Policy Institute offers regional calculators to illustrate just how much income different types of families need to make ends meet.

Sources: The Bureau of Labor Statistics; Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; "The State of Working American 2002-03," The Economic Policy Institutue; The World Bank; THE ECONOMIST

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